Four Days in Seoul
After an exhausting 44-hour journey involving planes, trains, and automobiles, I arrived in Seoul, South Korea this past Sunday. I'll be spending the next three months in Kyoto, Japan working on my Major Qualifying Project for WPI, but before that I wanted to spend some time seeing another city I had never been to before.
After finishing the last day of my internship on Friday, I took a train into Boston. My roommate Cole, who will also be involved in my MQP, and I caught plane to Seoul the next morning. Between the length of the flight and the time zone difference we landed a full 30 hours after we departed.
Aside from the oppresive heat and humidity, and the permanently overcast sky, Seoul is a beautiful city. Modern skyscrapers stand right next to ancient temples and palaces, and the streets are lined with everything from traditional street food stalls to VR arcades.
Monday: exploring the Yongsan electronics market
We were too tired from travelling and jet lag to do anything major on Sunday, but when Monday morning rolled around we decided to wander around and see what could be found near our apartment. We were a bit nervous about using the Seoul metro after a travel YouTuber had decried it as confusing and scary, but the reality was pleasantly surprising.
Trains in Seoul are incredibly clean and quiet. There are a lot of subway lines and stations, but it's easy to get around because the signage is clear, and everything is labelled in Korean, English, Japanese, and Chinese.
The subway is also super cheap. Travelling to almost anywhere in the city was only about $1.25, and even the train to the airport was just three bucks.
With our newfound mastery of the subway system, Cole and I ventured to Yongsan to see one of the biggest electronics markets in the country. This section of the city contains thousands of tiny stores selling any kind of electronics you can imagine. Processors, graphics cards, full laptops, plugs, cables, and adapters of every kind, even expensive video equipment.
This place was massive, and a lot of the goods were cheaper than you could find on Amazon in the US. It was well worth the trip, I just wish I actually needed some electronics so I'd have an excuse to buy something.
Tuesday: the Han River and Hongdae
On Tuesday we took a trip to see some parks around the scenic Han River. Just walking around and relaxing for most of the day was nice, but in the evening we decided to check out Hongdae, a trendy area near Hongik University.
Hongdae was packed full of cool stuff to see and do, with lots of street performances and restaurants. There were also a lot more tourists than we had seen previously.
We also ran into a bubble tea place called Tiger Sugar, which I recognized from my time in Hong Kong. I've never seen the place not be packed, but it's worth the wait because their bubble tea is incredible.
But the best part of Hongdae is the night life. The dozens of restaurants, shops, and arcades are a lot of fun to explore. We even got to experience a "VR theme park," which was a little underwhelming but still a unique experience.
Wednesday: Dongdaemun Design Plaza
Our hotel was in an area called Dongdaemun, right next to this really cool-looking park/plaza/building thing. The whole time we were in Seoul we had been meaning to check it out, and on Wednesday we finally did. It turned out to be a design museum called the Dongdaemun Design Plaza.
The whole plaza has some really neat architecture, and was interesting just to walk around and look at. There were lots of open spaces where you could sit and relax, and if I lived in the area full time I could see myself going there a lot to do work.
Inside there was an exhibit on British designed Paul Smith, which was pretty interesting to see. I only knew about him in a general sense beforehand but Cole was a big fan.
There was also an exhibit on the design of chairs, which was way more interesting than it sounds. I never realized there could be so much variation in such a simple product. This exhibit included pieces by well-known designers from all over the world, as well as some less-famous entries.
The DDP took up most of the day, but in the evening we checked out some other arcades in the area and had some Korean fried chicken, which was delicious. At a VR arcade in Dongdaemon I got a chance to play some Beat Saber, which is always fun.
Thursday: Bongeunsa Temple and traditional food
For our last day in Seoul we planned two big excursions. In the morning we went to see Bongeunsa Temple, an ancient Buddhist temple in the heart of Seoul, and in the evening we booked a "food tour" to try some traditional Korean cuisine we might have missed out on otherwise.
Bongeunsa Temple, despite being right next to a subway station and shopping mall, was still being used in the same way it had been for the past 1200 years. When we arrived in the morning there was a Buddhist ceremony currently in progress, and the huge crowd of people chanting was a sight to behold. The temple is brilliantly preserved, and new buildings are currently under construction.
All of this was right in the middle of Gangnam district in central Seoul. In fact, as we were leaving the temple we ran into a huge monument to Gangnam's most famous product:
For our last excursion of the trip we decided to go on a food tour. We went with a Korean tour guide and a Swiss man who was (of course) a watchmaker and his family to three different restaurants to try the best local dishes.
At the first restaurant we had Korean barbecue, basically pork belly, kimchi, and bean sprouts that you cook yourself at the table and wrap in a lettuce leaf to eat. I had had Korean barbecue once before in Hong Kong, but it was still my favorite meal of the entire trip. Nothing beats good meat.
After the barbecue we went to a cafe to have a soup-like dish called tteok-bokki. It consisted of stir-fried rice cakes, noodles, fish, and various vegetables, along with a side of pickled raddish. I thought it was delicious, and would definitely try it again. Interestingly, the cafe we were at had two cats that roamed around the dining area and no one seemed to care.
Finally, to finish off the evening we travelled to a tiny hole-in-the-wall restaurant for Korean pancakes. These aren't pancakes in the traditional sense, they're actually vegetables or kimchi coated in flour and egg and pan-fried. They were a good snack, and a great way to finish out the day.
It was a great trip as a whole. Seoul is an amazing city, and in the four days I was there I barely scratched the surface of all there is to do in it. I'd love to go back some day, maybe with a little more knowledge of Korean and some more time to spend in the country.
For now I'm off to Kyoto, Japan to work on my senior project for the next three months.